I was raised by parents who generously and always sincerely praised and affirmed their four children. We grew up with healthy self-images, believing in ourselves and knowing that we were unconditionally loved. That basic security they gave us allowed us to dream in the expectation that our dreams, no matter what they were, could and would come true if we gave them our best shot. I came to understand affirmation as the act of holding up to the other person a faithful mirror in which he or she can see more clearly, and more fully appreciate, his or her fundamental goodness and worth, which otherwise could so easily have been overlooked.
This has become an increasingly important emphasis for me as I discover time and again how many persons’ lives are stunted and distorted because they were never adequately helped to know themselves as they really are. Modern psychology assures us that unless one loves oneself one cannot possibly love others. It’s saddening to reflect on the fact that countless children are denied affirmation and grow up therefore with a seething contempt for themselves and the world around them. You have to wonder what percentage of mental disorder, emotional imbalance, adversarial relationship with society, and outright crime is traceable to inadequate affirmation.
Along with that absolutely essential ingredient in the development and maintenance of a balanced and confident personality, I know of another to accompany and complement it. For want of a more specific name, I call it “appropriation,” and by that I mean the personal claiming of the one gift that will outlast all others, the one that escapes the boundaries of time and space – and that is an active belief in the perfect life that Jesus and our 2000-year-old Christian tradition say awaits us beyond our earthly deaths. There is no empirical, scientific evidence to prove its truth; therefore, the word belief must be strongly emphasized. I hesitate to use the word heaven because it is overloaded with mythical concepts, the figments of human imagination that have accrued over the centuries past. For me, “perfect life after death” means simply total union with the source and sustainer of all life and all being that we call God.
As author Herbert Brokering uniquely put it, “I do not understand the resurrection. I only want it…I do not comprehend life and resurrection. I only take the miracle and say, Thank you, Lord.”
At her request, I gave my sister Barbara a copy of that poem a couple of years ago. Late last month, as many of you already know, she died when her robust and healthy life was brought to an end by the irreversible complications of intestinal surgery. Just a few days ago, while I was in the process of writing this homily, her grieving husband phoned me and, in the course of our long conversation, made special mention of the fact that, while he held her hand during her last hours, and though she was unable to speak, with her eyes and hands and lips she made the contents of her mind & heart perfectly clear. She made it unmistakably known that she was accepting death with joy and peace — not with mere resignation, but, it seemed, with eager anticipation of what lay ahead.
In every funeral at which I preside, I always include the words of the beloved Pope St. John XXIII, who was asked by a reporter how he was reacting to his advancing old age and if he thinks often about the coming of death. The jolly pope replied, “You know, any day is a good day to be born, and any day is a good day to die.” Those words, those sentiments, can come only from a deep and abiding faith that we have been created not merely for time but for eternity.
On that basis again, I wish you Happy Easter!